Gov. Bev Perdue shares her thoughts on the gay marriage fight taking place in North Carolina on Tuesday and struggles to say whether she is for or against gay marriage itself.
Updated at 8:30 a.m. ET: North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday night banning gay marriage, but the measure also goes one step further by not allowing civil unions.
The state becomes the last in the South to approve an anti-gay marriage amendment and joins 30 others with similar measures. Incomplete returns Tuesday night showed the amendment passing by 60 percent of the vote.
The amendment, also known as Amendment One, would make marriage the only legal domestic union valid in the state. Opponents said the measure was unnecessary because a state statute has banned gay marriage in North Carolina since 1996. They also argued that domestic partners – both straight and gay – and their children could lose health benefits under the amendment, but advocates for the new measure claim that will not happen.
Making this a constitutional amendment was important, said Rachel Lee, a spokeswoman for Vote For Marriage NC, because “those statutes are vulnerable to the will of an activist judge or future legislature who could overturn the law with a single court ruling or by a single vote of the legislature.”
Lee watched the election results at a party in Raleigh with grassroots coordinators and coalition members. When it became clear the amendment had passed, they cut a vanilla wedding cake topped with a figurine of a bride and groom.
“If you looked at a map of our country, you saw North Carolina as the only one in the Southeast without an amendment preserving marriage between a man and a woman,” Lee said after the results had come in. “North Carolina had a target on her back.”
To overturn the amendment approved Tuesday night, the legislature would have to overrule the amendment by a three-fifths vote and get voter approval. Before the amendment passed, a judge or simple legislative majority could have overturned the 1996 statute banning gay marriage.
“This puts up a bigger barrier,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.
Dinan said the amendment was introduced after Republicans won a majority in both houses of the state legislature in 2010.
“It’s been a pretty easy win in every southern state,” Dinan said. “It never got to the ballot in North Carolina because Democratic legislatures never let it get there.”
Dinan said the amendment’s impacts would not be immediate.
Allen Breed / AP
Hundreds of people gather behind the state capitol for a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Raleigh, N.C., on April 20, 2012.
“The one place it could make a difference is in eight or nine cities in North Carolina that give out insurance benefits to same-sex couples,” Dinan said. “Lawyers might have to start taking a real close look at those insurance benefits that are given out and they might have to change those.”
Melissa and Libby Hodges of Durham could be among those affected by the amendment. They worry their 5-year-old daughter may lose her health benefits, as she is covered by Libby, who cannot legally adopt her. By Tuesday afternoon, the moms had filled out paperwork for private insurance.
Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for Protect All NC Families, which was against the amendment, echoed the concern about health benefits for domestic partners, gay or straight. His group also is worried that victims of domestic violence may no longer be covered by statutes addressing that type of crime.
“We know the consequences that we’re listing, but there’s a whole bunch of unintended consequences that we probably haven’t even thought of yet that will come up in the courts after this,” Kennedy said.
Thomas Peters, cultural director of the National Organization for Marriage, which supports the amendment, said children of gay parents in other states where similar amendments have passed have not lost their health insurance. He said he doubts that would happen in North Carolina.
Lee said the amendment would “in no way impact domestic violence protections, child custody or end of life desires."
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Voting began early Tuesday on the marriage amendment and candidate races in the 2012 primary, but 512,000 people – or 8 percent of registered voters – already had participated through absentee ballot, according to the State Board of Elections. That record turnout surpassed even the 2008 primary, which included Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the ballot, according to Democracy North Carolina.
Several high-profile figures – from former President Bill Clinton to evangelist Billy Graham – and national advocacy groups weighed in on the amendment.
“We’re having a great debate about marriage in this country, and it’s not at all settled about which way we’re going to go,” Peters said.
Before North Carolina's amendment passed, the last state to approve a constitutional amendment did so in 2008. Eight states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Back in Durham, Libby and Melissa Hodges were debating whether to move to another state, where gay marriage would be legal.
They moved to North Carolina from Georgia in part because at the time, North Carolina allowed gay partners to adopt their children. That is no longer legal.
“My brother said, ‘If the amendment passes, North Carolina will be more backward than Georgia, will you move back to Georgia then?’” Melissa Hodges said. “I said, ‘You’re so wonderfully sweet, but no.’”
But leaving North Carolina would be hard. Both are city planners close to being vested in the state’s pension plan. Selling their home would be difficult, Melissa Hodges added, and their daughter was accepted into their first-choice kindergarten. Plus, another move would take her away from her brother, with whom she is close.
On Tuesday night, the Hodges watched the results online after putting their daughter to bed.
"She asked us before we put her to bed to make sure to tell her in the morning that we won," Melissa Hodges said. "She doesn't get the stuff with health insurance, but we told her that we'll always take care of her, not to worry about that."
Msnbc.com's Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.
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